James Otto, while enjoying his recent No. 1 country single, 'Just Got Started Loving You', admits he didn't start out planning to be a country singer, or even a country music fan. The singer-songwriter says he shied away from the genre, until he discovered one of country music's living legends.

"The reason that I play country music today is Hank Williams Jr., Otto told the Dallas Morning News. "He made country music cool to me. Prior to that, it was what my grandparents were listening to, the gospel stuff. Not that I didn't think those things were cool. But when you're a kid, those things aren't cool to you. Even Willie Nelson -- the style of songs that he wrote and he picked were very much R&B-influenced and jazz-influenced. Country music is nothing but the white man's blues. I want to sing the blues the way I feel them, and country music is where I'm coming from."

At one point, Otto may have felt entitled to sing the blues. His first record deal (in 2002 with Mercury Records) resulted in him being dropped from the roster after four singles failed at country radio. An original member of the notorious Muzic Mafia, he watched some of his closest friends and fellow Mafia members garner huge success, while his career stalled.

"Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich blew up, and my record went away without a whimper," he says. "The opportunity to succeed wasn't really there. I probably wasn't ready. The artist development that happened over the course of the next few years led me to make the best music of my life. I learned a lot of lessons with all the things that happened at Mercury. I need to be myself. In the end I will be happier that I did that, and if I'm successful, even better."

Now, six years after he lost his first record deal, life is certainly much sweeter. He has a new record deal with Warner Brothers, and his new album, 'Sunset Man,' has finally put him on the map with a No. 1 song and a heap of critical praise. Otto's personal life has also taken a turn for the better.

"During the course of the last record to this record, I got married. That was a big life change. All the different life experiences that happened to me in the last five years have changed me as a person, certainly as an artist. It made me pliable and hard in the ways I needed to be. It made me a better artist."